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A New Threat in Senate

| By Marvin R. Shanken | From John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

You probably haven't heard about Senate Bill 2625. We hadn't. It's titled the "Cigars Are Not A Safe Smoking Alternative Act," and its intent is to place greater restrictions on the sale of cigars. It's been introduced by Richard Durbin, D-Illinois. We should be thankful for the legislative process, because the measure has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, meaning it is under discussion. That's a long way from a vote on the Senate floor, but it's never too early to start sounding the alarm.

The bill is filled with distortions and misinformation. To justify its introduction, the bill contains statements such as "regular cigar smoking causes cancer, including cancers of the lip, tongue, mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx and lung." It also states that "heavy cigar smokers and those who inhale deeply are at an increased risk of coronary heart disease and can develop chronic lung disease." And, here's the best one: "Demographic evidence suggests that most new cigar users are teenagers and young males."

There's no science at work here. The Centers for Disease Control youth study used in the Senate bill included 18- and 19 year olds, hardly children, and qualified as "current cigar smokers" anyone who had simply tried puffing even one cigar in the preceding 12 months.

But it's even more fallacious to attribute the rise in the popularity of cigars to underage smokers. That claim, quite simply, is false. Through its Web site, Cigar Aficionado has surveyed 130,000 of its Online subscribers--cigar smokers all, and a far broader sampling of true cigar smokers than any government studies--and we found that the average age of the typical cigar smoker is 35, even after five years of the cigar boom. Have young men in their 20s and 30s discovered cigar smoking in the past few years? Certainly. But these are not underage smokers; these are adults freely making adult choices.

Furthermore, the vast majority of cigar smokers in our survey report that they enjoy their cigars in moderation: nearly 90 percent smoke one a day or less, and 92 percent do not inhale. That level of use hardly qualifies as "heavy" cigar smoking. Even the National Institutes of Health report on cigars released last spring said that they had no conclusive evidence about the effects of occasional cigar smoking (although the report did not define "occasional").

You'd think by now, especially after the Environmental Protection Agency's secondhand smoke study was discredited last August (see our December 1998 issue), that the antitobacco movement would stop trying to use limited data from high-frequency cigar smokers to indict anyone who enjoys a cigar. It's just not right. Cigars are a tobacco product that by design is meant to be enjoyed in moderation. But they don't get it. The antismokers simply think: if it's tobacco, it's bad.

The Senate must be told the truth. It's up to you, our readers, to tell your representatives what you think about this issue. Write or e-mail the senators on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation: Republicans John McCain (Arizona), Ted Stevens (Alaska), Conrad Burns (Montana), Slade Gorton (Washington), Trent Lott (Mississippi), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Texas), Olympia Snowe (Maine), John Ashcroft (Missouri), William Frist (Tennessee), Spencer Abraham (Michigan) and Sam Brownback (Kansas). The Democrats are Ernest Hollings (South Carolina), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Wendell Ford (Kentucky), John D. Rockefeller (West Virginia), John Kerry (Massachusetts), John Breaux (Louisiana), Richard Bryan (Nevada), Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) and Ron Wyden (Oregon).

You may write them directly at the United States Senate, Washington D.C. 20510, or find their e-mail addresses by searching www.senate.gov. Let them know that their constituents won't stand for laws that are based on bad information and worse science.

Marvin R. Shanken, Editor & Publisher
Gordon Mott, Managing Editor